News / Arts & Entertainment

Iceland Golfers Take On Lava Beds, Angry Birds and Wind

A golfer plays a shot on the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course in Rekyavik June 5, 2013. About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.
A golfer plays a shot on the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course in Rekyavik June 5, 2013. About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.
Reuters
The names of the world's greatest golf venues roll off the tongue like a putt rolling toward the cup. Pebble Beach. St. Andrews. Valderrama.
 
Then there are Vestmannaeyja and Porlakshafnar. Those names don't trip off the tongues of anyone except the hardy residents of Iceland. Surprisingly, this island in the frigid North Atlantic is one of the most golf-obsessed places on earth.
 
With 65 courses for a population of 322,000, Iceland has more courses per person - one for every 5,000 people -- than any other country.
 
Though many are just nine holes, that's nearly twice as many courses per capita as Scotland, according to a 2007 survey by Golf Digest. The magazine said Scotland had the most courses per capita but it didn't count countries with fewer than 500,000 people.
 
About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.
 
In contrast to America and Britain, golf club membership in Iceland is still growing, albeit more slowly than before the country's banking bubble burst five years ago.
 
“We joke that if just three or four people are living near one another, they'll probably start a golf club,” said Haukur Orn Birgisson, a young attorney who serves as vice chairman of the Icelandic Golf Union.
 
Indeed, some clubs have as few as 20 members, dedicated souls who will upkeep the course themselves.
 
Birgisson's club, Golfklubberinn Oddur, just outside Reykjavik, is among the country's largest, with 1,300 members. Like most clubs in Iceland it is open to the public as well as members, charging a guest fee of 6,900 Icelandic krona ($57).
 
Iceland's golf season includes the annual Arctic Open tournament, scheduled this year for June 27 to 29. Open to amateurs and professionals alike, it's played at the Akureyri Golf Club in northern Iceland, which boasts of being “the most northerly 18-hole golf course” on earth.
 
Lava Beds, Terns, and Winds
 
Golf is popular in Iceland despite the obvious drawbacks. The season lasts just four months, from mid-May to mid-September. Summer temperatures rarely venture above 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit) and even then occasional days of wicked winds and steady mist can keep all but the most foolhardy or dedicated off the course.
 
Iceland does offer unique advantages and challenges to golfers. Most notably, in June, July and August, golfers can play virtually 24 hours a day.
 
Golfklubburinn Keiler in suburban Reykjavik is booked solid all summer with starting times from 8 am until 10 pm.  Playing under the midnight sun can be surreal and sublime, especially if a tee time starts your round at 10 pm.
 
Another advantage: Iceland's cool, moist climate makes for lush, green fairways. Also, golf courses don't have trees to disrupt errant shots. Trees aren't native in Iceland.
 
Iceland does, however, have lava beds, volcanic rock from past eruptions. They dominate the rough on many courses and are filled with crevices that can swallow golf balls like a whale gulping down krill.
 
The lava beds also are nesting sites for Arctic terns, birds that migrate from pole to pole. Golfers hitting near a tern's nest will find themselves playing their next shot under aerial bombardment from the ill-tempered birds.
 
Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.
x
Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.
Volcanic rocks are seen at the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course, near Rekyavik, June 5, 2013. The lava beds dominate the rough on many courses, and the beds are filled with crevices that swallow mis-hit golf balls.
Formidable lava beds line the course on Heimaey Island, population 4,500, about three hours by car south east of Reykjavik. A lava flow from a 1973 volcanic eruption almost choked the harbor, but today cruise ships bring bird watchers, nature lovers and, yes, golfers.
 
The sheer cliffs, lava beds and sea vistas made it “the most dramatic course I have ever played”, said Kimber Bilby, an American from Michigan who played the course recently in calm weather with her fiance´, Bob Prust, a physician. One of their favorites was the par three 17th hole, which requires a tee shot across a sea inlet and lava beds to reach the green.
 
On the day the couple played, most golfers on the course were local Heimaey residents, many of them children of high-school and even grade-school age.
 
“I was watching the kids practice their chipping and putting, and they were awfully good,” said Prust. “It was obvious they had played the course many times.”
 
As for why golf is so popular here, Birgisson cites the Icelandic character.
 
“We always seem to go 'all in,' and golf is no exception,” he explained. “That mentality didn't serve us well leading up to the banking crisis, but it has taken us far with golf.”

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Role in Fighting IS Carries Domestic Risks

There are Western concerns Islamic State militants soon may unleash offensive in kingdom that could create upheaval - though nation has solid intel, grip on banking system More

Asian-Americans Enter Public Office in Record Numbers

A steady deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Joe Taylor sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his distinction as New York’s “Subway Idol,” and how he beat out thousands for that title. Joe performs several songs from his new CD, “Anything’s Possible.”